Great ways to start an argument

26th May 2006 at 01:00
TOLERANCE AND EMPATHY IN TODAY'S CLASSROOM: Building Positive Relationships within the Citizenship Curriculum for 9 to 14 Year Olds (with support CD-Rom). By Andrew Hammond. Paul Chapman Publishing, pound;18.99

This resource does several things particularly well. It foregrounds the processes of engaging in effective group work and structuring pupil debate as important ends in themselves. It offers some useful practical suggestions for establishing ground rules and negotiating agreed values in citizenship classrooms ("lessons in tolerance and empathy can only be truly learned when class members are tolerant enough to listen to one another").

It also offers 15 carefully constructed and engaging scenarios, spanning Years 5 to 8, which are likely to provoke some animated debate. If these case studies prompt more English teachers explicitly to address controversial local and national issues, and to recognise their role as teachers of citizenship, they will have performed a valuable service.

The scenarios include: a disagreement about whether to prioritise the building of a new adventure playground in the school grounds; a rural station closure; a future Act to abolish the monarchy; and a contested planning application for an an out-of-town hypermarket.

My personal favourites were a future Vehicle Limitation Act (2015), restricting car ownership to one per household, and an Olympic Bid case study, looking at the pros and cons of being a host city.

One of the units for each year group also offers a divisive school-centred scenario.

Each unit of work includes "character cards" for and against a particular proposal, and four lesson plans mainly incorporating group work and whole class discussion. Additionally, there are suggestions for follow-up activities, such as persuasive writing, artwork, newspaper articles and poetry. A CD-Rom offers worksheet support activities.

To avoid an unrelentingly unproductive exchange of conflicting views, there are useful suggestions included as to how compromise might be achieved ("If I cannot have exactly what I want, what would the next best thing be?").

Some of the language of the introduction might seem offputting ("equitable discourse", "group dynamics and values", "making pledges"), but old hands, such as Vygotsky and Bruner, make reassuring brief cameo appearances.

It is also fair to point out that "empathy" and "tolerance" are treated relatively unproblematically, whereas they ought to be seen (by students and teachers alike) as distinctly contested terms. Nevertheless, the author's heart is absolutely in the right place and the activities have a reassuring flavour of classroom readiness and appeal.

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